Previous e.p.r. work [George, Bray, Morpeth & Boxer (1985) Biochem. J. 227, 925-931] has provided evidence for a pH- and anion-dependent transition in the structure of the Mo(V) centre of Escherichia coli nitrate reductase, with the low-pH form bearing both an anion and probably a hydroxy-group ligand. Initial e.x.a.f.s. measurements [Cramer, Solomonson, Adams & Mortenson (1984) J. Am. Chem. Soc. 106, 1467-1471] demonstrated the presence of sulphur (or chloride) ligands in the Mo(IV) and Mo(VI) oxidation states, as well as a variable number of terminal oxo (Mo = O) groups. To synthesize the e.p.r. and e.x.a.f.s. results better, we have conducted new e.p.r. experiments and complementary e.x.a.f.s. measurements under redox and buffer conditions designed to give homogeneous molybdenum species. In contrast with results on other molybdoenzymes, attempts to substitute the enzyme with 17O by dissolving in isotopically enriched water revealed only very weak hyperfine coupling to 17O. The significance of this finding is discussed. Experiments with different buffers indicated that buffer ions (e.g. Hepes) could replace the Cl- ligand in the low-pH Mo(V) enzyme form, with only a small change in e.p.r. parameters. E.x.a.f.s. studies of the oxidized and the fully reduced enzyme were consistent with the e.p.r. work in indicating a pH- and anion-dependent change in structure. However, in certain cases non-stoichiometric numbers of Mo = O interactions were determined, complicating the interpretation of the e.x.a.f.s. Uniquely for a molybdenum cofactor enzyme, a substantial proportion of the molecules in a number of enzyme samples appeared to contain no oxo groups. No evidence was found in our samples for the distant ‘heavy’ ligand atom reported in the previous e.x.a.f.s. study. The nature of the high-pH-low-pH transition is briefly discussed.

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